Solar Photovoltaic

Photovoltaic Cells Convert Sunlight into Electricity

A photovoltaic cells are strung together to make a panel, commonly known as a solar panel. This technology will convert solar energy directly into electrical power. A photovoltaic cell is a non-mechanical, meaning it has no moving parts and is generally made from silicon alloys.

Source: National Energy Education Development Project (Public Domain)

Photons Carry Energy

Sunlight is composed of photons, little particles of light energy.  These photons contain various amounts of energy corresponding to the different wavelengths of the light spectrum; the ones that are visible to our eyes the wave lengths are represented by different colors.

When photons strike a photovoltaic cell, they may be reflected, pass right through, or be absorbed depending on the wave length.  Only the photons that are absorbed provide energy to generate electricity.

The Flow of Electricity

When the electrons leave their position, holes are formed.  When many electrons, each carrying a negative charge, travel toward the front surface of the cell, the resulting imbalance of charge between the cell’s front and back surfaces creates a voltage potential like the negative and positive terminals of a battery.  When the two surfaces are connected in series with a load, such as an appliance, electricity then flows in a close loop.

How Photovoltaic Systems Operate

Individual cells can vary in sizes and power. Typically, one cell can only produces about 1 or 2 watts, which isn’t enough power for most applications. To increase power output, individual cells are connected together to make a panel. Panels can be further connected to form an array.  The term array refers to the entire generating plant, whether it is made up of one or several thousand panels.

Affects of Weather

The performance of any solar array is dependent upon sunlight.  Climate conditions, such as clouds or fog, have a significant effect on the amount of solar energy that will hit the array, which will directly affect your power output. Most modern panels are about 10% efficient in converting sunlight, meaning that only 10% of the energy that hits the panel is converted into electricity. Further research is being conducted to raise this efficiency to 20%.

Applications of Photovoltaic Systems

The simplest photovoltaic systems powers things like small calculators and wrist watches used every day.  Larger and more complicated systems provide electricity to pump water, power communications equipment, and even provide electricity to our homes.

Some advantages of photovoltaic systems are:

  1. Conversion from sunlight to electricity is direct, so that bulky mechanical generator systems are unnecessary.
  2. PV arrays can be installed quickly and in any size.
  3. The environmental impact is minimal, requiring no water for system cooling and generating no by-products.

History of the Photovoltaic Cell

The first practical photovoltaic cell was developed in 1954 by Bell Telephone researchers examining the sensitivity of a properly prepared silicon wafer to sunlight. Beginning in the late 1950s, these cells were used to power U.S. space satellites. PV cells were next widely used for small consumer electronics like calculators and watches and to provide electricity in remote or ‘off-grid’ locations were there were no power lines available.


Where Solar Energy is Found

Solar Energy Is Everywhere the Sun Shines

Solar energy is the Earth’s most available source of energy. Solar energy generation is able of providing many times our current energy demand. However, it is a sporadic source of energy, meaning that the amount of energy you would get would be the same all the time. However, it can be supplemented by energy storage or using other energy sources.

Here is a solar resource map of both the United States and the World. This map indicated where how much solar energy you will receive by location.


Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy

Source: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), NASA Surface meteorology and Solar Energy (SSE), 2008.

California Has the World’s Biggest Solar Concentrating Power Plant

There are 9 solar power plants, in different locations in California’s deserts. These plants comprise the Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS). SEGS plants are concentrating solar thermal plants.  They are the largest solar power generating plants in the world, generating up to 354 MW.

Concentrating solar power technology uses mirrors to concentrate and reflect sunlight onto receivers that collect the energy of the sunlight and convert it to heat. This heat can then be used to produce electricity by using a steam turbine or heat engine driving a generator.

Europe Has Some Large Photovoltaic Power Plants

Another solar generating technology uses photovoltaic cells (PV) to convert sunlight directly into electricity. These are more commonly called ‘solar panels.’ PV cells are made of semiconductors, such as crystalline silicon or various thin-film materials. Photovoltaics can provide tiny amounts of power for watches, large amounts for the electric grid, and everything in between.

The Moura photovoltaic power station in Portugal and the Waldpolenz Solar Park in Germany, both completed phase 1 in 2008, represent the trend toward larger photovoltaic power stations.

Other Uses of Solar Power

Low-temperature solar collectors also absorb the sun’s energy in the form of heat, but instead of making electricity, use the heat for hot water or space heating for your home or building.


Nuclear Power, Good or Bad?

Nuclear energy is created by splitting uranium atoms by a process called nuclear fission. This process releases energy in the form of heat that can then be used to create electricity. Nuclear power accounts for approximately 19% of the US electricity production. More than 100 nuclear plants are currently in operation in the US, however, no nuclear power plants have been built since 1996.

Uranium is a nonrenewable resource that cannot be replenished on a human time scale. Uranium is extracted from open-pit and underground mines. The uranium ore is processed into dense uranium oxide pellets. This uranium enrichment process generates radioactive waste.

At the power plant, the uranium oxide pellets are bombarded with neutrons, causing the uranium atoms to split and release both heat and neutrons. These neutrons collide with other uranium atoms and to release additional heat and neutrons in a chain reaction. This heat is used to generate steam, which is used by a turbine to generate electricity.

Nuclear power plants do not emit carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, or any other dangerous or harmful gases. Nuclear power plants use large quantities of water for steam production and for cooling. Coal and natural gas plants would also draw a comparable amount of water.

Once every two years nuclear reactors must be shut down to remove and replace the spent uranium. This spent fuel has released most of its energy as a result of the fission process and has become radioactive waste. Radioactive waste is then stored in steel-lined concrete vaults. These wastes will remain radioactive for many thousands of years.

I personally believe that nuclear is a reasonably clean alternative fuel. All the waste of it we control, it does not get sent up in the atmosphere. One day we will have means of using the radioactive waste we generator today into another fuel source and takeout the remaining energy from it, while cleaning it.


Where does your Trash go?

This will really depend on where live, but many states and counties will be similar. Let me tell you where my trash goes where I live in Davis County, Utah.

All of the waste that I throw out is taken to Wasatch Integrated. Most of the waste goes to the “burn plant” or Energy Recovery Center, which is a waste-to-energy facility. This means that the garbage is incinerated and the heat generated is used to produce steam which is piped to Hill Air Force Base to heat their facilities. The remaining ash contains metals which are extracted by a large magnet. These metals are then sent to an independent metal recycler for processing.

Some of the garbage is diverted to the landfill, which is divided into cells. The cells are lined in such a way that as the garbage deteriorates the methane gas that is produced is captured and then burned in engines that generate electricity.

But that’s not all. Wasatch Integrated also operates a “Green Waste” facility. Residents can bring grass clippings, tree limbs, shrubbery, or any other green waste to the facility, at no charge. This green waste is recycled into compost, bark chips, and other commercial grade landscaping products. These products are available to residents for a nominal fee and loading assistance is available for those with pick-up trucks.

Don’t think that throwing items in your garbage can is ‘true’ recycling. These programs do help the environment only in a minor way. Be sure to put a little effort in recycling paper and plastics, it is really easy and require very little time. Wasatch Integrated also has a local Drop-Off Recycling Center. The facility accepts paper, plastic, and metal. There are also drop off bins that the city provides at my local civic center. Check with your local city or county office to find recycling programs in your area.


Swamp Coolers Vrs. Air Conditioners, Energy Savings of

What is more energy efficient an air conditioner or a swamp cooler?

Much misleading information is published about air conditioners being more efficient and an energy savings over using a swamp cooler. An air conditioner typically does have a higher efficiency rated motor and compressor to save as much energy as possible. The motors are more efficient than the ones commonly used in swamp coolers. However, we really have to look deeper to understand what the true energy difference is between the two.

Swamp coolers, sometimes called evaporator coolers, take advantage of ambient energy (heat) in order to work. As water pass through the cooler it evaporates, which means it changes phases from a liquid to a gas. This requires energy in order to make the phase change and the energy in this case is coming from heat in the surrounding air. This process makes the air cooler and that is the basic principle behind a evaporator cooler.

Air conditioning units use a compressor to compress refrigerants. What happens is you have a certain amount of energy (heat) in one ounce of liquid, you then compress that down into a smaller area. The liquid still has the same amount of energy, it’s just in a tighter space, making it hotter. It then flows the liquid through a radiator to cool it down, losing all the energy. Once done it uncompress, with the less energy for its mass, it is now cooler than ambient temperature. It sends the cool liquid through a heat exchanger in your central blower and the cool air blows into your home.

Lets breakdown the energy usage of each one. A standard air conditioning unit uses 4400 watts to operate its fan and compressor, plus you also have to add the central blower adding another 600 watts, for a grand total of 5000 watts. The swamp cooler has a motor and a small water pump. The motor is similar in size to that of your central blower of 600 watts and the small pump is less than 100 watts, for a grand total of 700 watts.

Swamp cooler typically require to be ran more than air conditioning units to achieve the same temperature, however, even while running more the energy savings with a swamp cooler can be significant. Swamp coolers do require a little bit more work on your part than an air conditioner and can only be ran in low humidly hot areas, such as, the mid-western states.


Motor Efficiencies

Induction Motor

Motors are all around us, there in our ceiling fans, our treadmills, refrigerators, clothes dryer, and even the vibrater in your cell phone. Motors constitutes 50% or more of all the energy you use every day. Not all the motors are the same, they come in many different shapes, sizes, and even have a wide range of technology.

There are 3 different types of motors we are going to discuss:

Induction Motor: Induction motors are one of the most popular, most of them run directly off the 60hz AC power that comes out of the wall. They are found in things ceiling fans, clothes dryers, and your central heat/cooling blower. A common induction motor is generally considered to be only 50% efficient, although many induction motors have a very wide range. Some induction motors may reach as low as 15% and as high as 98%.

Brushed DC Motor: Brushed DC motors are very common on battery operated equipment, such as, RC cars and cordless power tools. Brushes are used in this type of motor to get power into the windings as the motor spins, these brushes reduce the efficiency of the motor as it cause ‘shorts’ in the coil as it spins. The brushes also wear out over time and require to be replaced. These motors are not very efficient, generally in the range of 50-70%.

Brushless DC Motor: Brushless DC motors are someone what new to the motor arena. They have electrical components that do the same thing that brushes do on a brushed motor. These motors are seen all over the place, but most recently are taking the stage as part of designing electric cars. These motors can reach very close to 99% efficiency, common ranges are from 70-95% efficiency.

Motor science has picked up over the last decade but was stagnant for many decades before.  That has been a great deal in advancement of magnetic and ferromagnetic material that has made this possible.

A word of warning: There have been a lot of publications on “over unity” or “perpetual motion” motors that have been made to “solve our energy needs.” These motor/generators inventor’s are claiming they run/generator power with no energy input or outputting more energy than they are given. These are false. Being a former motor engineer, I have had the opportunity to review many of these claims and all have been fake. Some people have build what they truly believe is real, when in reality they are mistakenly calculating there energy input verse there output incorrectly due to lack of knowledge. Other are simply trying to scam people out of investment money.


Green Energy, What is?

Green energy is energy that is produced in a manner that has less of a negative impact to the environment than energy sources like fossil fuels. Common ‘greener’ types of energy include solar, wind, geothermal and hydro energy. There are several more, even including nuclear energy, that is sometimes considered a green energy source because of its lower waste output relative to energy sources such as coal or oil and also the waste is something that can be contained rather than sent up in the atmosphere.
The goal of green energy is generally to create power with as little pollution as possible, pollution being any by-product causing negative effect to environment. Every form of energy generation will result in some pollution, but those that are green are known to cause less than those that are not. Most people who advocate greener sources of energy claim that the result of worldwide use of green energy will result in the ability to preserve our planet. Greenhouse gases, a by-product of traditional sources of energy such as fossil fuels are thought to be causing global warming, or the process of the Earth heating up at an accelerated pace.
It is not completely necessary for green energy sources to come from places like solar or wind fields, which are examples of green “power plants.” A green energy source can be a building that is designed in a way that it keeps itself cool in the daytime and heated in the night through its architectural design rather than having an air-conditioning or a heating system. The conservation of energy through architectural design becomes, itself, a green energy source replacement.
Similarly, many sources of green energy can come directly from the area in which the energy is needed rather than from an outside source. A residence, for example, can be covered with solar panels for the purpose of collecting energy to be used for electricity. When utilized properly, surplus energy is often produced in this manner, which can then can be channeled thru local power grid and used at other destinations.
One of the goals of green energy technology is to take existing fossil fuel energy technology and clean it up so it is produced more cleanly. One such case is that of clean coal technology, where scientists are trying to find ways to extract energy from coal and other fossil fuels without all of the harmful side effects. The success of such these types of green energy depend upon the ability to extract harmful by-products from fossil fuels while not only being energy efficient, but by being cost efficient as well.


Octane, What is it?

When you go to the gas station and there are typically three different grades of gas. These gases are different because of their octane rating.

What is octane?

Octane is gasoline rating that indicates how much the fuel can be compressed before it spontaneously ignites. It is not a energy density rating, which means that a higher octane fuel will not let make your fuel last longer than the minimum octane rated for your engine.

The internal combustion engine that is in all of our cars has piston and cylinder, the piston moves up the cylinder and compresses the gasoline and air and is then ignited by a spark plug. If the gas ignites due to compression rather than by the spark plug, this causes a condition known as knocking. Knocking can damage an engine, so it is not something you want to have happening.

The compression ratio of your engine, the amount of compression your piston makes each cycle, determines the minimum octane rating your engine requires. One way to increase the horsepower of an engine of a given displacement is to increase its compression ratio. So a high-performance engine, such as Audi, Volvo, etc, will have a higher compression ratio and requires a higher octane fuel. The advantage of a high compression ratio is that it gives your engine a higher horsepower rating for a given engine weight — that is what makes the engine “high performance.” The disadvantage is that the gasoline for your engine costs more. I drive an Audi that has a high compression engine that is also has a turbo, the engine is requires 91 octane. I also have a Toyota 4runner that has a ‘normal’ engine and only requires 85 octane.

The name “octane” comes from the following fact: When you take refine crude oil and break it down, you end up getting hydrocarbon chains of different lengths. These different chain lengths can then be separated from each other and mixed to form different fuels. For example, propane, methane, and butane are all hydrocarbons. Methane has a single carbon atom. Propane has three carbon atoms chained together. Butane has four carbon atoms chained together. Pentane has five, hexane has six, heptane has seven and octane has eight carbons chained together.

Next time you pull up at the pump, use the fuel that meets your octane requirement. You can find your octane rating on the inside of your gas door or your user manual. Using a fuel that has a higher octane than needed is just a waste of money.


CFL vs. Incandescent Light Bulbs

The common everyday incandescent light bulbs that most of us still use are very inefficient. A 100 watt incandescent light bulb is 2.6% efficient. That means that out of the 100 watts of energy that I put into the bulb only 2.6 watts get used to create light, the rest just gets burned up in heat.

CFL or compact fluorescent lamps are similar to large tub fluorescent lights that are used in commercial buildings. The long tube has been twisted around to make more of light bulb shape. These light bulbs are not as simple to make as incandescent but amount to a great deal of energy savings. A CFL is between 9-11% efficient, that’s four times the energy savings over an incandescent. CFLs are also rated to have almost 10 times longer life!

Cost Comparisons between CFLs and Incandescent

25-Watt Compact Fluorescent 100-Watt Incandescent
Cost of Lamps $3.40 $0.60
Lamp Life 1,667 days (4.5 years) 167 days
Annual Energy Cost $6 $25
Lamps Replaced in 4.5 years 0 10
Total Cost $29 $134
Savings Over Lamp Life $105 0

Quick Tip

Don’t use CFL in place where you constantly turn the light on and off, and leave on only a short duration of time. Constantly turning on and off a CFL will greatly diminish its life. So areas like closets and hallways may not be the best place for a CFL


CFL do contain mercury just like any other fluorescent light and need to be disposed of properly. Store like Home Depot and IKEA have a drop off box and will recycle them for you. You can also check out your municipal center for recycling programs in your area that can properly hand mercury.

Additional Links

How Compact Fluorescents Compare with Incandescents

The Best Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs: PM Lab Test

Incandescent light bulb

Compact fluorescent lamp


Save Us! Not the Planet.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Save the Planet, Be Green”? Our planet has been around for about 4.5 billion years. The Earth has seen meteoroid strikes, super volcanoes, and even dinosaur poop. What an ignorant people we must be to think that we are going to destroy our planet in a few short decades. The expression people mean to say is, “Save Us”. No matter what we do the Earth will always still be here, short a few really stupid things. The key is that we want to make a livable and a comfortable place for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children.

The topic of being green is really wide and perhaps even misunderstood. So what is being green and how does it save us? The number one thing that comes to people mind is to stop global warming. We have all heard that global warming it is fake and never going to happen. This is not true, global warming is happening, now the debate of it being a natural cycle maybe valid. However, us as humans burning the fossil fuel and destroying foliage has definitely had an effect of the balance of green house gases and thereby affecting our planet’s temperature.

How can I help without running off and joining a commune and living in a hut made out of poop? Don’t jump all at once to change everything about your life for the sake of being green. Take small steps to help improve the environments. Start by looking at your daily routine. Do I drive a jacked up truck and blow smoke out my tail pipe ever five minutes, do I turn on the furnace and then open a window, do I leave lights on when I am not at home? By identifying and correcting your most environmentally damaging habits can really go a long way.

Just remember what you choose to do, do it trying to save us and not the planet!

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